A new report from Technomic Inc.’s MenuMonitor service supported the notion gleaned from several new-product introductions and tests at major quick-service chains that breakfast sandwiches continue to rise in popularity.
Through the first few months of 2013, breakfast sandwiches appeared 8.1 percent more often on the menus of Technomic’s Top 500 universe of limited-service restaurants, the Chicago-based market research firm found.
“Sandwiches are an important part of a restaurant’s menu,” executive vice president Darren Tristano said in a statement. “The number of ingredients, preparation methods and sauces can seem endless. Keeping abreast of trends appearing on restaurant menus is one way operators and suppliers can get ahead of their competition.”
A separate Technomic survey found that sandwiches at breakfast in particular remain popular with consumers, as one-third of respondents reported that they eat a breakfast sandwich at least once a week.
In the quick-service and fast-casual segments, menu innovation for the morning daypart has produced several sandwiches and handheld items, notably the Egg White Delight McMuffin at McDonald’s .
The Oak Brook, Ill.-based chain has said repeatedly that it derives 25 percent of sales at its more than 14,000 restaurants in the United States from breakfast, and sandwiches like the Egg McMuffin and the Dollar Menu’s Sausage Biscuit are major contributors to that. With the Egg White Delight McMuffin, McDonald’s offers a version of its signature breakfast sandwich made with egg whites, which also can replace the eggs in other sandwiches like the Bacon, Egg and Cheese Biscuit. The Egg White Delight also is made on a whole-grain English muffin.
The sandwich rolled out systemwide April 22, helping McDonald’s same-store sales rise 0.7 percent  in the United States in the month of April.
More recently, social media buzz has built for a “waffle taco”  being tested in at least one Taco Bell unit in Southern California. The nearly 6,000-unit chain would not reveal any details about the product, but accounts of the sandwich chronicled by fans on Twitter and Instagram describe the item as sausage and scrambled egg in a waffle that has been folded like a taco shell. The price of that sandwich is 89 cents, and it is served with a packet of syrup.
So far, Irvine, Calif.-based Taco Bell’s test of its First Meal breakfast platform is in about 800 locations in the West, but company officials have said previously that the morning menu is projected to roll out systemwide by the first half of 2014.
By contrast, Wendy’s has scaled back its test of breakfast from a level approaching 1,000 locations to about 400 restaurants, as the Redhead Roasters coffee program and a lineup of breakfast sandwiches and baked goods were unprofitable in several markets. Officials for the Dublin, Ohio-based brand of 6,500 units said during its first-quarter earnings call  that the hit to the company’s earnings this year from discontinuing breakfast would mostly get offset by gains from its “Image Activation” remodeling program.
Fast-casual chains also have thought up more portable items for breakfast recently, including 150-unit Corner Bakery Café. The Dallas-based brand introduced two kinds of Fruit-Filled Hand Pies, which resemble breakfast toaster pastries and come in either blueberry or peach, when it announced its spring menu rollout  last month.
Technomic’s MenuMonitor research found that several proteins remain popular in breakfast sandwiches, with bacon being the most popular, appearing in 30.1 percent of breakfast sandwich descriptions on chain menus. Ham, at 23.7 percent, and sausage, at 22.9 percent, were also among the most common breakfast proteins.
The research firm also disclosed that flatbreads, paninis and croissants grew the most among types of bread and sandwich formats at breakfast, while the use of ciabatta bread and tortillas for morning daypart sandwiches declined.